If you haven’t heard the term “CBD,” you are probably living under a rock. Those three letters are showing up everywhere in creams, oils, pet treats, and many other mainstream products. Cannabidiol, or CBD, a naturally occurring cannabinoid component of cannabis, is rapidly growing in popularity because of its alleged health-related benefits.
Cannabis, also known as marijuana, has long been used to treat pain. More recently, scientists discovered that CBD is the specific ingredient responsible for pain-relieving effects. Studies have shown CBD may reduce chronic suffering by impacting endocannabinoid-receptor activity, interacting with neurotransmitters and reducing inflammation.
Those findings could potentially be beneficial for action-sports athletes. Why not pop a few Ibuprofen? Extensive use of Ibuprofen over time has been linked to high blood pressure, liver damage, and ulcers. CBD is said to be a natural method of coping with inflammation and pain without nasty side effects.
Anything associated with marijuana, however, is often viewed with great scrutiny. Cannabis is legal in a handful of states and medically cleared in others, but under federal guidelines established in 1971 by the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance (drugs, substances, or chemicals defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse). Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive component of cannabis.
After hours of research, I realized the laws regarding cannabis are grayer than the techniques universities often use to recruit high-profile high school athletes.
At the supercross season opener in Anaheim, California, rider Dean Wilson was told by race officials to cover the logo of his sponsor, Ignite, a company owned by “internet personality” Dan Bilzerian. Ignite sells both cannabis and CBD; Wilson claimed he was representing the CBD side of the business. The incident gained international attention due to an Instagram post from Bilzerian, who has more than 26 million followers.
Five rounds later, past series champion Chad Reed showed up in Minneapolis with cbdMD logos on his helmet. After the event, the AMA issued a statement that CBD sponsorships were banned until further notice. Here is the full statement:
Due to the ongoing issues arising from CBD product sponsorships, we are providing the following notice to riders and their teams.
The law regarding CBD products, including their lawful sale, possession, advertising, and sponsorship of them, is unsettled. Notwithstanding the change in federal law in December 2018, there are no federal regulations in place yet on how these products can be advertised or promoted. CBD and related products are not completely legal in all 50 states and there are various restrictions on their sale and promotion.
Signage or promotional displays for CBD-related products will not be allowed in the pit areas.
No rider will be allowed to race with logos or other promotional displays on their person, their uniform, their gear, or on their bike.
The AMA will be enforcing this at inspection points and at any other time a violation is brought to the attention of Feld Motor Sports or the AMA. Riders will be required to cover or remove any logo before being allowed to race and at no time during the event are the display of CBD-related logos permitted. Failure to comply with this will result in a rider being removed from a race or denied entry.
In addition, sanctions may be applied pursuant to the AMA Supercross rule book for any rider who violates this policy.
This will remain in effect until further notice.
So where does that leave us now? I spoke with Rico Ferrante from Medterra, a CBD company that supports multi-time national champions Jeremy McGrath and Jeff Ward, among other athletes. Medterra has also partnered with The W Training Facility, a popular gym located in Wildomar, California.
Ferrante said Medterra wants better communication with NBC Sports and Feld. “We understand the position they are in, and our main goal is to work with NBC and Feld, not against them,” he said. “We want to build relationships and provide any knowledge or insight needed to work together long-term.”
I asked Ferrante about Medterra’s position on sponsoring athletes within the current guidelines and how it expects to reap a return on its investment.
“We aren’t actively seeking athletes to sponsor, but we do enjoy working with guys like McGrath and Wardy,” Ferrante said. “We appreciate what they are able to do for us from a social-media standpoint, and today that seems more beneficial than logo placement. Obviously, it would be cool to see the logo on the TV coverage, but there will be a time and place for that. Right now, we are just working on creating awareness about the product and helping athletes with natural recovery and things like that.”
When it comes to American Flat Track, the series in which I compete, there is a little more leeway. Right now, CBD sponsorships are allowed at the track, but the logos may be covered up or blurred on television. Ward, for example, had Medterra logos on his riding gear at the season-opening Daytona TT, but those logos did not appear on the NBC Sports broadcast.
Regarding CBD sponsorship, AFT CEO Michael Lock told me, “Hemp-derived CBD oils are completely legal across all 50 states and, therefore, AFT would have no problem in any team being supported by a company that makes CBD products from hemp. Marijuana-derived CBD oils and products, on the other hand, are a real gray area. Marijuana-derived products are not consumer-legal in most states at the moment, and the federal government takes a very negative view toward them.”
Aegis Sciences Corporation is the drug-testing agency that works with AFT. An update on its website states CBD will not be detected as THC in a urine test, but it is possible for CBD to contain small amounts of THC. The legal THC limit allowed in CBD varies, ranging from 0.3 to 7 percent depending on state-specific regulations.
In layman’s terms, then, AFT riders are permitted to use CBD products, but they need to be careful which brand they choose because THC contamination could result in a failed drug test.
“It’s important that we get the word out to the paddock about what is allowed from a sponsorship perspective so there aren’t any surprises down the road,” AFT CMO Gene Crouch said. “We don’t want teams and CBD companies agreeing on big sponsorships only to find out later that their logos have to be covered up at events or blurred out on television. As the sponsorship landscape evolves, we’ll continue to work with the teams and riders to ensure they can maximize sponsorship opportunities while staying within guidelines.”
Full disclosure: I am an active CBD user. The products I use contain zero THC. I find them beneficial with training recovery and inflammation from injuries. I crashed at the Daytona TT and banged up my thigh and knee, and I had a hard time walking the next day. Using a CBD oral tincture and topical cream, I was able to run 6 miles a few days later. As I enter my 30s, I believe the benefits of CBD help explain why I am able to train longer and recover faster than many of my competitors.
In addition, I have long struggled with anxiety, which has been so bad in recent years that my wife has taken me to the emergency room fearing I was having a heart attack or stroke. Medications prescribed for me have done more harm than good, including causing anger, depression, and weight gain. Anxiety is difficult to explain to those who haven’t experienced it, but since I began using CBD, I have been able to control my anxieties and not let them control me.
Misconceptions over CBD are rampant. Many hear the word CBD and immediately think marijuana. My own mother scolded me when she found out I was using the product because she didn’t know what it was all about. You can chug an energy drink before lining up for the main event, but rubbing CBD oil on your joints prior to the first round of practice is frowned upon.
What does the future hold for CBD and motorsports sponsorship? No one knows. CBD’s market value will reportedly surpass $22 billion by 2022. For an industry already interested in the sporting side of motorcycling, that could be a positive thing.